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Cardinal Pell: “You must stop manipulating this Synod.”

WEB Cardinal Pell

Andrea Solaras/AFP

Susan E. Wills - published on 10/18/14

Proposal to keep small group reports from public sparked "revolt"

According to a report by Marco Tosatti in La Stampa (and translated on Fr. Z’s Blog), Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, announced that the reports of the small working groups would not be made available to the public. Tosatti reported that this announcement was met with opposition from Cardinal Pell, and then “an avalanche from many others along the same line, underscored by thunderous applause.” Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, writes that Cardinal Pell “slammed his hand on the table and said, ‘You must stop manipulating this Synod.’”

Thanks to this reaction in the General Synod, which has been reported as a “revolt,” summaries of the small working groups’ interventions were posted by the Vatican press office. The English summaries reveal broad and deep dissatisfaction with the interim draft and plans to add substantial new text affirming the constant teaching of the Church “on the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ,” along with other “major amendments” and other small ones which, “nevertheless … have significant meaning attached to them” (Circulus Anglicus “A”).  

The summaries are just that. They do not include the approximately 700 edits (many quite substantial) to the Interim Report. The editorial committee has been given the monumental task of reviewing, accommodating or rejecting, and incorporating these edits into the Synod’s final report. The edits, known as "modifications," were submitted only on Thursday by the 10 “Circuli Minores” (“small groups” in Latin) – three groups each of English- and Italian-speaking bishops and two groups each of French- and Spanish-speaking bishops.

Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office, was asked by a reporter if he thought the report would be done in time for a vote at the end of the Synod on Saturday evening. Father Lombardi expressed doubt that the report could be completed in time, but, according to Robert Royal, Father Lombardi responded that he had no idea how the participants could vote on the final text if it were not completed in time.

The “editorial committee” charged with writing the final report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family due today, was recently increased by two, when Pope Francis named Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (Durban, South Africa) and Archbishop Denis Hart (Melbourne, Australia) to the committee.

The choices of the two new committee members are interesting. Cardinal Napier, described as a traditionalist, had been outspoken in objecting to what he saw as African concerns being ignored by some at the Synod. In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, the Cardinal also expressed opposition to any softening of Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, and referred to divorced and civilly remarried persons as polygamists.

Archbishop Hart succeeded Cardinal Pell as the Cardinal Archbishop of Melbourne. The Cardinal has been viewed by many as leading the loyal opposition against attempts to modify or dilute settled teachings.

Confusion still exists over how the arguably most contentious section made its way into the interim report: the three paragraphs in a section still entitled “Welcoming Homosexual Persons” in the official Italian interim report. Father Lombardi told reporters that the emphasis given to this topic in the Interim Report surprised him as “he recalled only one speech out of about 265 about gays during the debate” of the Synod’s first week.

One possible explanation was suggested by AP reporter Nicole Winfield, who noted that Father Lombardi had attributed the section on welcoming homosexuals to the Italian theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte. She wrote that the drafters of the interim report were also working from materials that even the Synod Fathers had not seen or read. All the bishops were asked to submit lengthy written speeches to Cardinal Baldisseri before the Synod was convened, but bishops were permitted only four minutes to speak to the assembly. The written speeches were not made available to the Synod Fathers, but the content was available to the drafters of the interim report, and “factored into the draft report.”

The confusion created by the organizers’ choice to publicize some documents, such as the interim report, while keeping others under wraps — the bishops’ written and delivered speeches, as well as the working group summaries (a decision reversed by a vote of the full Synod) — has been described as “more and more like a soap opera” by John L. Allen Jr.,  associate editor of Crux. He also quoted Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn’s description of “the situation in the synod in which the mother says ‘watch out, be careful’ and the father says ‘no, that’s fine, go ahead.’

In an interview he gave to Catholic News Service, Cardinal Pell revealed that

three of the synod’s 10 small groups had supported a controversial proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

But Cardinal Pell offered this opinion on what the controversy was really about:

Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some – very few, certainly not the majority of synod fathers – it’s only the tip of the iceberg, it’s a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions," Cardinal Pell said. "The church cannot go in that direction. It would be a capitulation from the beauties and strengths of the Catholic tradition, where people sacrificed themselves for hundreds, for thousands of years to do this.

The Cardinal stated that if the final report did not reflect the views of a majority of the Synod Fathers, it would not be approved by the Synod before its closing.

By Saturday night, God-willing, with the approval of a final report – which will become a working document for the October 2015 Synod on the Family – the “soap opera” will end and all eyes can turn to the Beatification of Pope Pius VI.

Susan E. Wills
is spirituality editor of Aleteia’s English language edition.

MarriageSacramentsSynod on the Family
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